We Need Key West Transit To Communicate Their Path Forward

By Chris Hamilton, August 19, 2020

On July 30 we brought you an article, “Key West Transit Takes Steps Towards Future With August Public Hearings” announcing the public hearings on August 12 and 26 about the changes Key West Transit instituted in May. The virtual Zoom meeting on the 12th was attended by about five staffers and four acknowledged transit buffs (myself included). Staff said the meeting wasn’t to answer general questions, but to address Civil Rights discrimination issues that might have arisen as a result of those changes. Since no one raised any civil rights issues, they took a few other questions from the three of the four participants. But the answers provided by the Transit Director left us more befuddled than before the hearing about the state of what is happening now, the reasons behind it and what might be happening in the near and long-term future.

Summary of Presentation

Route coverage within 1/4 mile.

The Transit Director described that the system went from 6 to 4 routes on May 16. The reason for the modification was a drastic decrease in revenues. It was explained that 50% of the revenues come from the State and 50% from city from parking garage fees and bus fares. As their budget was cut, it was necessary to reduce routes and hours and provide basic service to those who rely on it. He showed a map of the old routes and the new routes. Another change was they instituted a $1 fare for visitors on the Duval Loop. In summary, those were the changes. He explained using maps, that despite the changes, most of the island still has a route route within a quarter mile of their home. He said that if these changes cause discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we want to know about it.

What We Think We Heard

We think we heard that because of Covid Crisis hit, their budget has been slashed in half and that is why it was necessary to reduce the number of routes and service hours. But we also think we heard that there’s a shortage of drivers AND a shortage of buses to run the service and therefore that contributes to Key West Transit not being able to put out more service. Our confusion arises because it wasn’t clear if the lack of frequency on these two new routes, which is only every 80-90 minutes, was because of budget cuts or lack of drivers and buses or both?

The Transit Director described delays in aquiring new buses and that it was difficult to hire new drivers. He seemed to say that the new buses, because of their size (did we hear him use the word cutaways a few times in describing them?), allowed the system’s drivers to not have to go through as much training and certification as the current buses require. Presumably this will make it easier to hire drivers in the future?

When asked about making the City Routes more frequent, the Director seemed to say that the amount of service out there now meets the needs of the people using it now. Increases would depend upon ridership analysis showing a need at certain times of day or on certain routes. If a need was shown, then they’d consider it.

He didn’t seem to acknowledge the connection between the lack of service and low ridership and that perhaps increasing the frequency was the key to showing more of a demand for service. It seemed chicken or egg to us.

Is the Lack of Frequency a Civil Rights Issue?

Key West Transit’s new North Line runs buses at every 80-90 minutes frequency.

We’d argue that Key West Transit only has this half right. They showed a map indicating that most people live within a quarter mile of a bus route. So in going from four to two routes, everyone still has access. That’s a good thing. But when that service is so infrequent as to be useless to depend on for getting to work or to the doctors or to the grocery store, then perhaps THAT’S a Civil Rights issue? We aren’t qualified to weigh in on the law. However, the lack of frequency seems bad for equity and bad for business. If someone depends upon the bus or doesn’t own a car or if someone would like to use the bus, then frequency matters.

Investing in Our Transit System Is Good for Our Island

We get that these are tough times. But basic transportation should be treated like street lights, water, sewer, and electricity as a basic service. A certain level of service should be maintained. Perhaps we can’t do service every 15 minutes at the moment as the 10-Year Plan calls for, but how about every 30 minutes, instead of every 80-90? And where did that $1.5 million the Feds gave Key West Transit a couple months ago, go? If the City is serious about battling climate change and helping our environment, about affordable living (housing + transportation costs), equity for all its citizens, not just those with the ability to afford to drive cars, and with helping our economy prosper, we need a public transit system that people would want to ride.

We’ve applauded the City and Key West Transit for adopting a progressive and much needed Plan. But we’re worried that Key West Transit is going backward and not forward. Key West Transit needs to communicate with transparency what the situation is and when, to the best of their ability to tell us, things will start changing for the better. Good, transparent communications aren’t too much to ask of a public agency. Especially one we need and are rooting for.

There’s another hearing on August 26. We hope Key West Transit will answer the following questions:

Questions Based Upon the Hearing

  1. What was the original budget for this current year and what is the revised budget?
  2. What is the proposed budget for next year that begins October 1, 2020?
  3. What is being done with the $1.5 million dollar Covid grant received from the Federal Government?
  4. When will the frequencies increase on the new North and South Routes?
  5. When will the frequencies increase on the Lower Keys Shuttle?
  6. When will the new Loop routes be instituted?
  7. Is the City looking at making transit for the City routes free? If not are they developing programs for employers to provide free transit to their employees?
  8. Is Key West Transit going to put up map and schedule information on the new City routes and Lower Keys Shuttle like is done on the Duval Loop?
  9. When is Key West Transit going to upgrade its outdated website and institute a marketing program?
Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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